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Detroit officer wins case alleging excessive force, retaliation by fellow officers

a police squad car
Flickr user Scott Davidson/Flickr

A Black Detroit police officer has won a federal lawsuit in which alleged his fellow officers used excessive force and retaliated against him based on his race.

In 2017, Officer Johnny Strickland was off duty and out of uniform when, he said, he accidently entered an unmarked and unsecured crime scene. He said he was handcuffed, harassed, and humiliated by fellow Detroit officers.

In a press release, the ACLU of Michigan, which represented Strickland in the case, described Strickland's account. "He identified himself as a Detroit police officer, but the officers on the scene insulted and ridiculed him. He was placed in handcuffs, which tightened to a degree that they physically injured Mr. Strickland. He was then detained without cause or justification, while his private vehicle was searched."

Strickland said he was warned not to report the incident by a white captain who was the supervising officer on the scene. Strickland said the captain told him, “This goes nowhere from tonight.”

Strickland, an 11-year-veteran with Detroit’s police department, was suspended after he filed a complaint about race discrimination during the incident.

Mark Fancher, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan's Racial Justice Project, said he wants the case to lead to reform.

"Our hope is that this will help to bring this type of thing to light and will prompt the leaders of the department and those who are in leadership positions in the city to take aggressive and definitive acts actions to try and change that," Fancher said.

He said a goal of the lawsuit was to expose the department's policing practices and make the community safer for everyone.

Fancher said the ACLU recommended several reforms such as racial bias training and partnering with more diverse organizations.

"But beyond that, and these were purpose for purposes of resolving the case, but far more is really needed in order to bring about the type of law enforcement agency or some type of approach to public safety that's going to address the real problems of the culture of policing in many ways is toxic, and it needs to be completely broken down," he said.

The jury issued its verdict Monday and awarded Strickland $150,000 in the lawsuit against the City of Detroit. The city and the Detroit Police Department declined to comment on the settlement.

Strickland said he hopes his actions will "encourage other Black officers to stand up for what's right."

"Staying quiet only makes things worse," he said. "If I, as a veteran police officer, so easily became the victim of police misconduct by my own colleagues, the average citizen doesn’t have a chance."

Briana Rice is Michigan Public's criminal justice reporter. She's focused on what Detroiters need to feel safe and whether they're getting it.
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